Can estranged children contest a will? Well, contesting a will is a complex legal process that comes with the validity or the terms of the documents. It also gets very complicated and emotionally heavy once the children have gone their separate ways. At this time as families are at the edges and emotions run high the complexities of controversial wills take another turn. In this article we will be learning more about the estranged family, and contestation of the will. Moreover, this guide will also explore the legal ground for such a challenging situation.
What is Estrangement?
Estrangement or an estranged family means a family where the emotional distance between some of its members lasts for a long period of time or/and physical isolation. Such separation usually involves limited communication, insufficient comprehension, and sometimes feelings of isolation or being unrelated. It is a common description of family ties that have deteriorated and in some instances one can hardly recognize them as being relatives anymore.
Estrangement within a family or estranged family members can take various forms and may result from a range of factors, including but not limited to:
Communication Breakdown: Poor and poor communication results in misunderstanding of each other’s viewpoint, unreconciled conflicts and eventual drifting apart (family member).
Differing Values: Tension between family members is created by fundamental differences of values, beliefs, and lifestyle that may culminate into estrangement.
Personal Conflicts: Disputes among individuals, whether financial, in relationship or others, may affect family relations.
Unresolved Issues: Unresolved issues left lingering over a long period of time may be an indication and cause of decay in family relations.
Life Changes: For instance, divorce, remarriage, moving, or major adjustments in the lives of the family members could pose great pressure on a family bond.
Cases of estrangement are typically very emotional and difficult. Can estranged children contest a will, it directs victims and even family members. Estrangement of relations between parents and children, siblings, or other close relatives in a family can have great significance on the life of such a family.
It should be noted that estrangement does not occur just once but each case has distinct causes and outcomes. Successful attempts at reconciliation or rebuilding relationships will depend upon how much some family members are willing to address those issues that led to separation. Now that you know about estrangement; let’s learn about can estranged children contest a will?
What Does the Court Do with The Estrangement Cases?
The court response to estrangement might be different depending on legal context as well as jurisdiction. Estrangement is often used by the family law courts as a consideration in their decision-making process in matters like child care, orphans and property ownership rights. However, the point to remember here is that family law cases are very particular in nature.
Here are some ways in which courts may approach estrangement in different legal contexts:
1. Child Custody and Visitation:
A lot of family courts do consider the welfare of the children before they decide on whether to award physical or legal custodianship in most jurisdictions. Estrangement that is detrimental to a child’s health may also affect custody arrangements. The court can also use evidence of parental alienation in cases where one parent has been alleged to be alienating the child against the other. Doing this amount to a case where one of the parents sabotages the child’s connection with the other one.
Such courts may direct in instances where the problems contribute to estrangement, they can advise them on counseling or even reunification services aimed at encouraging positive relations between the parents and their children.
2. Inheritance and Estate Matters:
Individuals have a freewill to dispose of their property as they wish in estate matters. Nevertheless, when a disinherited relative feels so inclined that he or she was illtreated, unjustifiably omitted or simply poorly looked after, he/she can invoke arguments such as undue influence (which can happen if one is under duress), lacking mental capacity, or
Certain family members, such as estranged children can still make a claim for financial provision under some jurisdiction’s family maintenance laws from the deceased’s estate.
3. Guardianship and Conservatorship:
In cases where a family member is seeking guardianship or conservatorship over an incapacitated individual, the court may consider the dynamics of the family relationships, including any history of estrangement.
In cases involving domestic violence, the court may issue restraining orders to protect the safety of family members. Estrangement may be a factor considered when determining the necessity and scope of such orders. It’s essential to consult with legal professionals familiar with the laws of the specific jurisdiction and the details of the case. Courts typically aim to make decisions that prioritize the wellbeing of individuals involved, especially in family law matters where relationships and emotions play a significant role.
What happens when contesting a will in case of estrangement?
Contestation under these circumstances is usually related to either challenging the will itself or its terms. Can estranged children contest a will? Basically, the main reason for a contest of a will may be that the individual has misgivings about what the deceased person wanted, and they suspect that the will is invalid. In addition, where estrangement sets in, there becomes an additional emotion in the otherwise difficult affair. Here’s a general overview of what happens when contesting a will in the context of estrangement:
1. Grounds for Contestation:
Can estranged children contest a will? There are some protocols, and the law provides grounds to fight an alleged will. Testamentary capacity, undue influence, fraud, forgery, improper execution, and failing to provide for dependents represent common grounds for contestation. This could be extended further to include aspects such as emotions or the general background of the relationship in situations of estrangement.
2. Filing a Lawsuit:
A challenger sues usually at the probate court for this process and often it starts from here.
In a legal suit, the contestant should indicate the basis of the will’s contention.
3. Notification to Interested Parties:
As a rule, the law requires notification, at least, to all interested parties – beneficiaries named in the will and other possible heirs. This is what enables them to react and bring forth a counter-argument on the will.
4. Discovery and Evidence Gathering:
In this case, the parties go through the discovery phase whereby each provides information to reinforce his or her case. In some instances, this entails acquiring documents, taking depositions from a witness, as well as getting an expert opinion. The circumstances surrounding the nature of relations in such cases as well as other events resulting into the will will be adduced.
5. Mediation or Settlement Discussions:
In order to prevent a trial, both parties can talk while undergoing mediation or settlement discussion with the intention of settling the dispute out-of-court.
Mediation can become a platform for considering emotional issues related to separation and coming up with workable agreements.
6. Probate Court Trial:
If settlement does not result in a resolution, then the case goes to trial in the probate court.
They show evidence, hear witnesses, and make legal arguments for or against a dispute.
7. Court Decision:
A judge bases his decision on the evidence available and relevant statute. A court can also direct a remake of the assets based on changes upon nullification of the will or due to unacceptable adjustments.
Both parties can appeal in case they have reasons to believe it contains an error of law or the fact that new pieces of evidence come to light.
One should be reminded that contesting a will is not an easy legal process and results vary depending on the characteristics of each case. However, in estrangement cases, emotional issues/ family dynamics can be brought into account but not as a basis of contest. It would be advisable to seek legal counsel from a seasoned lawyer who exclusively deals with probates and estate planning.
Meet Doug, a seasoned financial planner with over 35 years of experience in providing trusted advice and planning for retirement, estates, income tax, and investments. As a Chartered Accountant (CPA CA), Certified Estate Advisor (CEA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP®), and Elder Planning Counsellor (EPC), Doug has the expertise and knowledge to guide and support executors through the estate processing journey.